How many times have I seen an old person sitting alone, hungering for interaction, and I did not stop to engage them in conversation? It has been far more often than I would like to admit.
Through my 95-year-old father, I am getting a crash course in what I can expect to happen as I age. I watch as others now ignore him in social situations as I, too, have ignored the elderly.
I remember thinking “What can I say to them?” as I endured the discomfort of not knowing how to engage. I would sheepishly ask myself, “What if they don’t understand me?” and “How will I get away so I can get on with my day?” I have heard others say about the elderly “they only talk about the past” as though that is a bad and boring experience.
Have we trained ourselves and others to avoid the most treasured belongings of the elderly – their memories? The truth is that baby boomers are entering their third and final phase of life. We want to be active, engaged, and involved. But will our self-focus and obsession with youth come back to haunt us?
The day will come soon enough when there is little future to focus on and most of our lives will be long gone. But what richness is contained in that past! Especially the memories of those members of the Silent Generation like my father who has experienced everything from the 1929 stock market crash to the 50 year anniversary of man landing on the moon. Will the members of Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials treat us the way we treat the elderly? The answer is most likely “yes” unless we change our interactions, value the memories of those growing old, and teach others to do the same.
My father is a living history book having personally experienced a multitude of local, national, and world events. His perspective of what happened and why will die with him unless I take the time to chronicle his thoughts. Additionally, the life lessons he has learned, the knowledge he has gained, and the experiences he has gone through are filled with insights on how I can handle the future.
“Seek to understand rather than to be understood.” The words of St. Francis of Assisi are as true today as they were when he spoke them more than 700 years ago. Taking time to engage with and to understand the elderly are things many boomers have avoided. It is as though we somehow think we are not going to age. The truth is we are all aging and the time to acknowledge that fact is now. We have an opportunity to embrace the wisdom of aging and to use it to better ourselves, our communities and the world. I hope we seize it.
If you would like to join the conversation with other baby boomers in your area about how to age well, join us at our Life Planning Center in Littleton, CO.